El Niño Reviving Freshwater Habitats
The effects of the El Niño weather pattern with lower temperatures and unseasonal rainfall are providing relief to Sanibel’s freshwater interior.
“The added freshwater to the island is welcomed by many native species as we did not have a very strong wet season,” said Wildlife & Habitat Management Director Chris Lechowicz. “Wildlife had to endure many stressors as a result of Hurricane Ian from the impacts of a drastic reduction in freshwater bodies as well as other habitat changes.”
Excessive dead vegetation, construction and demolition material spread across the island, and the addition of muddy soils from the Gulf floor that swept across the island during the surge and remained after it receded all impacted wildlife.
In the few months after the hurricane, very little rainfall occurred before last year’s winter dry season. At a time when a surge of freshwater was most needed to better sustain wildlife until the following summer’s rainy season, the island dried up.
Then, the summer rainy season was weaker than average.
“The limited rainwater was welcomed over the summer as both permanent and temporary pools started to fill, but then drained quickly due to large gaps in rain events, as opposed to the usual summer pattern of almost daily showers and frequent thunderstorms,” said Lechowicz.
However, over the last couple of months, the island has experienced numerous and consistent heavy rain events that have caused waterbodies to remain filled at a time when we are normally drying down.
“Although it is not the ideal timing for aquatic invertebrates, frogs, and many fish to breed due to the lower temperatures, the water is welcomed to help bring salinities down and provide freshwater pools for all forms of wildlife,” he said.